While reading all the posts on a company’s blog, I came up with 5 principles to make your next blog post better than bad high school essay. If you haven’t had opportunity to read all the posts on a company’s blog, I really encourage you to do it because it is enlightening. I almost expected many of these posts to start with song lyrics or a quote from a historical figure barely relevant to the core topic the post intended to address. If I were to go through all the posts on my various blogs over the years, I’d find a third of them fall into this category. These posts are written when rushed, when trying to meet a deadline, when no ideas for unique content are coming to us. The problem is, these posts are painful to read. They rarely offer information anyone cares about, and are obvious filler.
It may sound like I’m lecturing but, I’m actually speaking to myself and hopefully others listening will learn a lesson or two with me.
These are the 5 principles of writing compelling blog posts I came away with:
Use the Inverted Pyramid
This is a technique taught in journalism classes, and yes, journalism is still very relevant to web copy. You might sometimes hear the inverted pyramid referred to as ‘don’t bury the lead’. You don’t have to tease the reader – she is already reading the post. Don’t waste her time. Tell her what she needs to know right up front.
If the reader read only the first paragraph of the post, would it effectively convey the point of the post? Would it contain the most important information? The human brain remembers things said first. This is referred to as the primacy effect. The first part of any blog post needs to contain the essence of the whole. Simply put, the first paragraph should answer the question, “What is this blog post about and why should my reader care about it?” There is a parallel psychological effect, called the recency effect, where a person remembers the most recent thing she encountered. These two elements combined means the first thing you say to a reader and the last thing the reader reads are the critical elements of any bit of writing. Start with the most important points, and end with a summary of those points – restating your best arguments and supporting evidence.
After you’ve laid the ground work, established your topic, you get to start making your case. At this point in the blog you get some elbow room to elaborate on the points you initially made. You get to provide examples, offer solutions, and cite authorities supporting your original statements.
It is also at this point you might want to deal with any criticism of your main point. Why are these other points of view wrong, less valid, or not worth considering? Usually addressing these criticisms is a great way of supporting your main point.
Finally you can get into the nitty-gritty of the data, pull in tables, discuss the processes you used to arrive at your conclusions. Then you can restate those conclusions, provide the Too Long; Didn’t Read version of the blog post and be done.
For more information on how to write in the Inverted Pyramid style, you can check out Everything You Need To Know About The Inverted Pyramid Writing Style by Brad Zomick on Skilledup.com, Inverted Pyramid Style by Jana Brech on webwisewording.com, and Inverted Pyramids in Cyberspace by Jakob Nielsen on nngroup.com. Each of these articles describe the process of writing in the inverted pyramid style. Which means writing the conclusion first. Pay particular attention to the article by Jakob Nielsen. It was written in 1996 – well before current concepts of SEO, but he makes the point you need to explain to your reader immediately why she is reading the post. She may have arrived on your page from a link someone used in another blog post as evidence and citation. Saying what your post is about, with conclusions, right up front, will save the reader time and eliminate confusion. It is just being a good netizen, and yes, I just used the word netizen.
Complete the Thought
When writing your blog post, are you fully reporting on the topic you’ve selected, or are you providing rushed platitudes and clichés? When you cite someone as an authority, are you providing additional insight and commentary or are you just letting the quote stand by itself?
The whole reason someone has decided to click on the link and read your blog post over the hundreds (thousands) of others on the same topic is she has an expectation your blog post is going to deliver more meaningful information. You set the expectation the moment you wrote the blog post, even if you intended for it to be filler, just so your blog was updated with new content on time.
The issue many blog writers have is they lack all the knowledge necessary to ‘complete the thought’ and be the final authority on the topic they are writing. Don’t throw your hands up in frustration. This is where you curate your knowledge. Cite, link to, reference other sources to fill in the gaps. In this way your blog post becomes a resource in and of itself. Collect all the best knowledge on the topic and present it in your blog post. Someone else might not want to take the time to do the research and will just reference your post in the future.
The chances the reader will read all the words you wrote are slim. She is scanning your post, looking for the information most relevant to her interest. Maybe you can catch her attention with a well-turned phrase. This is more likely to happen if she discovers the information she is looking for. She is most likely to discover that information if it is actually present in the post.
Beyond the user experience, let’s talk SEO for a brief second. One of the reasons you are writing a blog post is to get traffic. Part of the search landscape is a concept called semantic search. Google has become a semantic engine. From a November 2014 article on Search Engine Journal called SEO 101: What is Semantic Search and Why Should I Care? Sergio Redondo told us how the arrival of Google’s Hummingbird update, the nature of search changed. “This reinforcement of the understanding phase means that Google starts to pay more attention to the context in which a search is performed and in which the concepts appear in documents and relate to each other. But how does it work? Well, thanks to semantics.”
Putting this in context, if you write as completely about a topic as you can, Google is able to better determine if your post applies to the search query being entered into its engine. But, you may protest, I want to come up for all searches! No, you don’t. You want to come up in searches where your page is relevant to the searcher. Otherwise the searcher may be frustrated when arriving at your site, expecting one thing and getting something else. How upset would you be if you bought a can of chili, opened it up, and discovered it didn’t contain chili? Maybe not upset, but certainly disappointed, right?
Provide Actionable Steps
How-to articles are successful because they tell people what to do. Contrary to what people may say, they like being told what to do. I know writing a ‘think piece’ – a piece presenting ideas, random thoughts, and opinions – is usually quicker. Take any trending topic, write 600 words about the topic, and call it done. Unless you are an influencer in your community, your opinions and ideas don’t matter. It’s true and I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this. Someone reading your blog wants actionable information. She wants to read your blog and be able to take an immediate action relating to the topic you discussed.
Are you writing an article about cupcake baking and the use of silicon pans? Provide an action (or non-action) for the reader to take. “Buy yourself one of this pans today!” or “Avoid buying these pans with the energy of a dying star!” Tell your reader what she needs to do based on the evidence you provided. (tweet this) Pro-tip: this is how you become an influencer in your community and get to write think pieces about tasty frosting.
If someone reads your blog post and can’t apply the information to a task or project they are doing on the topic, then why should they read your post? What benefit is your post going to give them? Of all the blog posts on the topic why is yours the one readers need to read?
When reviewing movies, music, software, whatever – you need to give a strong recommendation about whether it is worth the time and money. Are you writing to tell readers about a neat lifehack? Map out the steps necessary to accomplish it. You wouldn’t write, “I found a neat new way to make coffee, it involves banana peels” and not say anything else about it. It would be completely useless.
Don’t Be Wishy-Washy
When you write, you are putting yourself out there. You are saying ‘look at me’ and you are setting yourself up as a person with knowledge on the topic. You need to have some amount of ego to do this sort of thing. That’s okay, embrace your ego. This way when you write “Don’t buy those silicon cooking pans” you are saying it with force and conviction. You aren’t writing “well, if you like convenient clean up, you might want to take a look at silicon baking pans but sometimes, depending on your oven, you could get uneven cooking.” Ugh, just typing that sentence drained me of energy. A writer afraid to take a stand on something is a writer I don’t need to read.
When you finished writing your blog post, go back through and see how many times you applied conditions to your statements. Look for all the times you used the word ‘if’. Yes, I know you are trying to be careful. You don’t accidentally want a deep-sea fisherman reading your post on swimming pool toys and using your advice to outfit his vessel. At a certain point, though, you need to trust the reader understands her vocation and whether your post applies.
Often, I write in terms of metaphors. I recently wrote a blog post using sailing as a metaphor for SEO. I did not feel a need to hem and haw over whether the metaphor was perfect. I didn’t have to call out the obvious ways in which sailing and SEO aren’t the same. I simply used the generalizations of sailing I thought most people would understand to help explain aspects of SEO they might not understand. Attempts to clarify would have actually confused the issue. Be bold and make strong statements; no one has time to parse mealy-mouthed writing. (tweet this) And when an overly-exacting reader calls you out on an error – roll with it. Turn the moment of engagement into a conversation. Just showing you are listening is enough to chase away trolls.
Most likely, your first draft will be wishy-washy. You will lack confidence in what you are writing so you will put in a lot of conditional sentences. Ifs, mays, mights, coulds, will litter your entire post. No one will be able to back you into a corner. You will have created a great piece of legalese. By taking no position, the writing will lack conviction and be boring. No one reads boring blog posts unless they are doing it for work or school and even then those readers will search for a Cliff’s Notes version to avoid reading it. This is why we edit. When you go back through what you’ve written, you will tighten everything up. Rewrite those sentences where you’ve failed to take a firm stance.
The final product will be a bold and epic piece of writing you will be proud to promote.
Make a Call to Action
You got a reader to read all of your blog post. You are now in the best position to take advantage of the good will you’ve created with the reader. Time to give them a push, a call to action. Maybe you have a selfish desire to get their email address so you can communicate with her in the future. Maybe you have another blog post on a similar topic you want her to read. She’s already proven she is interested in what you have to say on this topic so why not give her more to read?
Now is the time to ask! A blog post ending with no call to action isn’t fully pulling its weight on your website.
I am extra guilty for violating this fundamental principle of blog writing. I always feel grateful when someone has read my post and think, “Oh, I don’t want anything more from you, thank you for reading.” No one reads your entire post out of pity (well, okay, maybe your Mom does). Your post was read because it was informative, entertaining, and ideally both. The reader received value from the post in exchange for her time. Asking her to subscribe to the blog, read another post, leave a comment, write a review, download an infographic, share the post with others, or any number of other actions isn’t going too far. If she found the post worthwhile, any one of these actions is not a big deal. If she found the post not to be worthwhile, she won’t take those actions. You aren’t coercing your reader into an action she doesn’t want to take. You are pointing out actions she could take if she wanted to.
Don’t think for a second people know what they can do and will do it. Spelling it out helps guide them, helps cut through the noise in their life and remind them of what can be done. Do you want your readers to follow you on Twitter? Say so, because some people won’t think to take that action. Others might think they are overstepping a boundary. Give them permission! Invite them to join your community.
You are writing a blog post for a reason. You want someone to read it and you want to attract people to your site from search engines. What you write shouldn’t be bland and boring. Your reader shouldn’t feel like she is reading a high school student’s half-assed essay on the topic.
By writing in the inverted pyramid style, providing the core points – the conclusions – up front, you let the reader know exactly what she is about to read and whether it is going to be worth her time. When you provide actionable steps in your post, you are giving the reader something tangible to take away from the post. By doing this, you are providing immediate value to the reader. A post written with conviction, with a bold voice, won’t be boring. Your reader will enjoy reading definitive statements, even if she disagrees with them. Clear sentences don’t hide ideas and don’t lead to confusion about the topic you are writing about. And when you have finished the post and re-summarized your core points, go ahead and make a call to action. Let the reader know what she should do next if she is so inclined.
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